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Maternal Distress Tied to Changes in Brain Growth of Offspring


Left amygdalar volumes smaller in neonates born to mothers with high pandemic-related distress

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 21, 2024 (HealthDay News) — Regional neonatal brain volumes are associated with elevated maternal psychological distress, according to a study published online June 20 in JAMA Network Open.

Susan Weiner, from Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and colleagues examined the association between the pandemic and rising maternal psychological distress with brain growth in newborns using quantitative three-dimensional volumetric magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The analysis included 56 mother-infant dyads recruited during the pandemic and an existing, prepandemic normative healthy cohort (103 dyads).

The researchers found that scores on anxiety and stress measures were significantly increased in the pandemic cohort, and infants of mothers with elevated maternal distress showed median volume reductions in white matter (−0.36 cm3), right hippocampal (−0.35 cm3), and the left amygdala (−0.49 cm3) versus infants of mothers with low distress levels. Elevated trait anxiety remained significantly associated with decreased left amygdalar volumes (−0.71) when adjusting for the cohort effect of the pandemic.

“These findings suggest that increased maternal mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic are associated with subsequent changes in regional brain growth in newborn offspring,” the authors write.

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